“What’s a pillock?” asks my squash partner, mid-rally.
This is the partner I occasionally beat, rather than the one whose trouncing of me is unending, although sometimes I manage something approaching a draw.
Anyway, squash partners one and two, and anyone else who has the misfortune to share a court with me, will have encountered the chuntered commentary of self-laceration.
For some reason the word ‘pillock’ is the one most muttered when the little black ball doesn’t go where the little black ball was meant to go.
“Pillock!” I will cry, along with other statements of despair to convey my own uselessness. “What a waste of space!”
A pillock is a stupid person, as in the saying “he’s a complete pillock”. So you see, Mike, a pillock is the sweaty bald man you play squash with once a week; a pillock is a man who plays a game for more than half his lifetime, without acquiring any noticeable skills. Or that’s how it seems some days on court.
I searched in Brewers Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, but my old edition let me down. The Oxford online dictionary reveals that the word dates to the mid-16th century and is a variant of the archaic word pillicock, meaning penis, which is said to be the early sense of pillock in northern English.
Without knowing it, I have been calling myself a penis on court for all this time. Oh well, if the insult fits and all that.
It’s a good word to say when cross or wishing to convey amused disdain, perhaps. Words that end in ‘ck’ leave a satisfying dent in the air. That’s why another old word, ‘bollocks’, is good to say, too. Here’s the online Oxford dictionary again – “Mid-18th century: plural of bollock, variant of earlier ballock, of Germanic origin; related to ball.”
And easily shortened to ‘balls’, of course.
I’m not sure if I mutter than when try to hit one, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Sometimes I wonder about squash, as it does make me cross, but then so too does a friendly game of badminton with good pals. Perhaps it’s just me then.
My problem with squash – a good game, let’s agree – is that in my head I’ve lost before the ball is hardly warm. I beat myself in a way. My head starts clear, then the clouds roll in. And that’s pretty much that.
Anyone know a good sports psychologist?